It is a time to remember that mental health is part of overall health. Mental health affects thought processes, relationships, productivity and the ability to adapt to changes in circumstances or cope with adversity.
So does mental illness.
One in four adults experience mental health problems in any given year. Those problems can contribute to onset of more serious long-term conditions. One in 17 adults lives with mental illness such as major depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Approximately one-half of chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14 and three-quarters by age 24. Unfortunately, long delays−sometimes decades−often occur between the time symptoms first appear and when people get help.
Mental Health Awareness Month a time to learn to recognize early symptoms of mental illness and the importance of talking about concerns with a doctor or mental health professionals. Early identification and treatment can make a big difference for successful management of a condition.
For example, major depression is a mood disorder that is more serious than “feeling blue” or temporary sadness. Some people may experience it only once, but more than half have at least one additional episode over their lifetimes. Be alert to any combinations of the following symptoms:
- Depressed mood (sadness)
- Poor concentration
- Disturbance of appetite
- Feelings of guilt
- Thoughts of suicide
Bipolar disorder involves cycles of both depression and mania. It is different from the “ups and downs” that most people experience, involving dramatic shifts in mood, energy and ability to think clearly. Symptoms also are not the same in everyone; some people may experience intense “highs,” while others primarily experience depression. Mania involves combinations of the following symptoms:
- Surges of energy
- Reduced need for sleep
- Extreme irritability
- Increased risk-taking behavior
Schizophrenia is a different type of mental illness, but can include features of mood disorders. It affects a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to other people. Untreated, it also may include psychosis–a loss of contact with reality. Symptoms include:
- Difficulty with memory
- Difficulty in organizing thoughts
- Lack of content in speech
- Emotional flatness
- Inability to start or follow through with activities
- Inability to experience pleasure
Other types of mental illness include attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorders (including posttraumatic stress disorder), borderline and personality disorder. Mental Health Awareness Month is a time to learn about them. One resource is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) which offers information through its website www.nami.org and HelpLine 1-800-950-NAMI (6264). With affiliates in hundreds of communities nationwide, NAMI also offers free education classes and support groups to individuals and families affected by mental illness.
Anyone who experiences symptoms of mental illness should see a doctor for a focused discussion about mental health concerns and assessment of potentially related physical conditions. The next step may be referral to mental health specialist. A range of treatment options exist. Education and connecting with others who have walked the same path or are facing similar issues also can play an important role
During Mental Health Awareness Month, please also talk about what you learn with family, friends and others. Help end the silence and stigma around mental illness that discourages people from getting help. This is a month to make a difference in our communities.